I am currently reading a book of testimonies about the Jews who were saved by a whole village – Le Chambon-sur-Lignon – during WW2. Theses testimonies were written by some of the Jews who were saved by the villagers; there are also a few portraits of the people who saved them.
A few years ago I attended a lecture by someone who is a volunteer at the French Committee for Yad Vashem. One of their actions is to identify and honor non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. He explained how this is done. He also detailed the reasons why these people acted as they did.
– Some people saved Jews because they believed in the values of the French republic they had chosen to serve or work for, before the start of the war obviously. These people were mayors, State representatives, civil servants or judges. This category also includes trade unionists and political activists. Even though the latter did not work for the state, they were motivated by political ideals.
– Some people saved Jews simply because it seemed the right thing to do at a given moment. Contrary to those mentioned above, they did not act according to theorized ideals and values. They just did what they deemed right.
– The last category is made up of Christians. As concerns France, some Catholics did not follow the hierarchy and protected Jews. For instance some Jewish children were hidden by priests or nuns in Catholic boarding schools under a false identity. Protestant are a small minority in France and most of them did not aprove of the German invasion of France. Not all of them resisted of course but they usually did not support Petain and the Vichy government.
The people in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon belong to the last category. Most of them were Protestants who regularly read the Bible and saw themselves as spiritual descendents of the Jewish people. Therefore protecting Jews by hiding them and providing them with food and lodgings seemed a logical thing to do. In addition to the local hospitality, children’s homes were set up in the village by Jewish and non-Jewish humanitarian organizations to welcome orphaned children and teenagers.
It is estimated that these villagers – most of whom were farmers – saved between 3,000-5,000 Jews from certain death. In 1990, for their humanitarianism and bravery under extreme danger, the entire village was recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations”. Only Niewlande, a Dutch village, has been awarded the same title.